Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Hold up on the hate mail for a second; allow me to explain. I know my schedule is fairly erratic, but I didn't plan on posting this week's review so late in the evening. Oh no, I intended to get this thing written up nice and early so I could spend the rest of the evening playing Psychonauts and wondering what the hell happened to my life. Unfortunately Fate intervened to prevent my fun-filled night of telekinesis and self-loathing.

As I've mentioned before, I never do any research prior to my weekly Wednesday post. I mean, I write a blog - research would be anathema to the entire process. So what usually happens is I surf a few of my favourite Flash game sites, find a really bad game, and then write up a quick little rant. This method has worked for almost two years now, and I've never seen reason to change it. Except maybe now, because I've just spent the last four hours searching for a shitty game and I've come up with nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Sure, I've found some bad games, but nothing worth a post. And I did find one God awful game, but it's four years old so I've got to give it the benefit of the doubt. But a contemporary, terrible Flash game? Maybe I've just been too nice this week, but nothing jumped out and truly disappointed me. So, I did what any online writer with a dearth of material would do - I said, "Fuck it" and did something else.

So yes, this is one of those rare occasions in Big Mean Flash Gamer where I actually get to enjoy myself. For you see, dear readers, this last week I fell in love with a game called Canabalt.

If I told you that Canabalt has been made in five days, you might be a little wary. That's a remarkably short amount of time, unless the game you're producing is a pile of crap. However, with a talent like Adam "Atomic" Saltsman at the helm, using his own Flixel software, Canabalt is a wonderful game.

The secret is in its simplicity. You play a little black and white figure who races across the rooftops of a crumbling city, trying to avoid pitfalls and obstacles thrown in your way. The longer you run, the greater your speed, pushing your concentration and reflexes to the limit.

Canabalt endears itself to you almost immediately, from the first satisfying leap through a window, shards of glass scattering through the air. Rendered in a solid eight-bit style, this is classic one button gaming. All you have to do is press the jump button; the sprite does all the rest. Sometimes that's all you need, and when most people play these games as a distraction from work, it's nice to have a game that doesn't feel like a chore to play.

It's probably a bit hypocritical of me to like such a minimalist game, especially when I've denigrated other titles for not giving players some kind of plot or context. Canabalt doesn't bother to do it either, but it's so addictive that you hardly notice and you care even less. I have a feeling, however, that Saltsman had a story all laid out for this, one he had to remove at the last second for fear of a lawsuit:

Manhattan, 2059. Having faked his death fifty years before, Michael Jackson is finally woken from cryogenic suspension. Doctors have reconstructed his face, giving him the opportunity to now live out the rest of his days in peaceful anonymity. Unfortunately, robot Glenn Beck's 9/12 Destructobots have launched their full-scale assault on the New York liberal elite. Then the call comes through. It's Tito. The Shah of Kuwait wants the Jackson 5 to perform at his daughter's birthday. Tito really needs this gig, man.

Michael must run.

Naturally, there are all sorts of nasty objects in your way. Most of these are just boxes, designed to slow you down, which makes long jumps more difficult. There are also crumbling buildings that collapse under you as you run across them, but for my money the most difficult obstacle is the giant mangling machine that drops out of the sky when you least expect it. These things will turn you into a fine mist before you know what hit you, so make sure to keep your finger on the button.

In truth, though, you'll more often than not die because you mistimed a jump. Whether it's overshooting a small building, misjudging a wide gap or just missing a window, your little guy will usually end up falling to his doom.

I suppose I should point out some faults, since that is the whole point of Big Mean Flash Gamer. And indeed, Canabalt isn't perfect. A lot of players have commented that they'd like to see a high score table, and while I'm not too worried about how I measure up to the mutant super players who tend to post record-breaking scores, it would be nice if it recorded your best runs for posterity. I've also found problems when it comes to loading Canabalt; if you have a slow connection you might be waiting for a while. I have to suspect, however, that this had less to do with the game itself and more to do with my wireless internet connection, which can go on the fritz if the wind is blowing the wrong way.

The greyscale landscape is pretty to look at for a while, and fits in with the stripped-back feel of the game, but as the screen shakes and things begin to blur it can start to wear on the eyes. Of course, this might only be a problem because I can't stop playing the bloody game.

But searching for reasons not to like this game would be like searching for a happy goth. What strikes me most about Canabalt are the little touches that you probably wouldn't miss but which just make the game feel more well-rounded and complete. Flocks of birds fly from rooftops as you land; the sprite grunts as he jumps, runs and rolls; and even the sound of his footsteps change depending on the surface he's running across. There's also a brilliant theme that has a great retro feel but that never gets annoying.

I know that people expect me to rant and rave about crappy games - why else would you be here? (Unless you're my fiancée - hi, honey.) But hey, sometimes I play good games, too, and Canabalt has taken up a lot more of my time this past week than any online title should. I wholeheartedly endorse this game, and if even a grumpy son of a bitch like me can enjoy it, you know it must be good.

I promise to return to reviewing garbage next week. But for now, let's make one more daring escape from Tito.


  1. I love gritty feel to the game, though teh shaky cam gets a bit annoying

  2. I tried playing this game, and what do I get? addiction! Haha! I'm enjoying it!